Ontario's Information and Privacy Commissioner (IPC) is a
prolific author of timely and interesting commentary on pressing
privacy issues. Earlier this month, the IPC released a new paper on
"drones" or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) entitled,
Privacy and Drones: Unmanned Aerial Vehicles".
The privacy issues relating to drones differ from typical video
surveillance. Typically, video surveillance involves mounted
cameras that record activities in a single location or that must be
moved on the ground from location to location. By contrast, drone
technology permits users to gather information from unique vantage
points in the air and offer greater dynamic-gathering capability.
Drones have become increasingly powerful with the ability to
sharper video images at greater distances and with infrared and
thermal imaging capability. As the IPC notes, the combination of
UAV technology and facial recognition programs means that drones
could be used to continuously track individuals when "in
public" and when "in private".
UAV technology is deployed not only for military and law
enforcement purposes, but also in many civilian applications. As
the IPC notes, drones operate in such diverse applications as
atmospheric research, mineral exploration, survey and inspection of
remotely installed equipment (e.g. pipelines), and emergency
The IPC is calling for greater public debate and consultation in
Canada. In particular, the IPC would like public debate regarding
the necessity of any proposed UAV program and the policies required
to ensure that the program is acceptable to Canadians. The
IPC's view is that the use of drones by the state (including
law enforcement) should require a warrant if it will involve
"sustained surreptitious surveillance".
Beyond debate, the IPC has suggested that in most applications,
it may be appropriate to employ IPC recommends anonymous video
analytics software, loaded on the device, processes the video feed
to detect facial patterns in data being recorded by UAVs. This
technology can be deployed to screen video feeds in real time to
obscure permanently images that resemble faces.
In addition, the IPC advocates federal amendments to Transport
Canada aviation regulations to require drone operators to obtain a
special flight operations certificate that would involve a privacy
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